Is it the end of the line for Seidman?

You don't need to remind Carolina Panthers tight end Mike Seidman that his NFL career has hit a crossroads. In three seasons with Carolina, Seidman has just 18 receptions, none last season, and injuries have prevented him from fulfilling the expectations the Panthers had of him when they selected him in the third round of the 2003 draft.

If it ended today, it would be hard to classify Seidman's tenure with Carolina as anything but a bust.

But luckily for Seidman, it doesn't end today.

He still has three more preseason games to prove to coach John Fox and his staff that he can be a contributor. Seidman caught the only ball thrown his way on Saturday night, good for an 8-yard gain.

If they decide he is not worth keeping, the Panthers may look for a cheaper alternative and keep fifth-round draft pick Jeff King from Virginia Tech as their third tight end behind current starter Michael Gaines and veteran backup Kris Mangum.

"You feel pressure every year, but this year especially," said Seidman. "I will be a free agent at the end of this year, so there are a lot of other factors involved, too. But I just want to have a good solid year and have an impact and help this team win a Super Bowl. I think if that happens, everything else will fall into place."

His senior year at UCLA, Seidman caught 41 passes for 631 yards and five touchdowns, and the Panthers thought he was the perfect combination of blocker and receiver for their offense.

However, Seidman's rookie season was cut short by a torn ACL in his left knee late in the year. He returned to play in all 16 games in 2004, starting six, and recorded his best season with 13 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

But he was plagued by a shoulder injury last season and started just one game and rarely saw action. When he did play, he was used almost exclusively as a blocker and didn't catch any passes.

"He's had the injury bug a little bit," Fox said. "About the time his role has increased, something has happened to him injury-wise. But he's a hard-working kid. He's worked hard this off-season and so far has done well in camp."

Seidman, 25, said the lack of numbers since joining the Panthers has been a combination of injuries and playing in an offense that rarely throws to the tight end.

But this preseason he's out to turn some heads.

"I want to show everyone how good I can be when I'm blocking and then when I'm catching balls," Seidman said. "I want to break some tackles, score some touchdowns, just do everything a little better."

The coaching staff doesn't seem to have lost faith in Seidman as some fans might have.

"He looks better now than the whole time he's been here," offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "But just like DeShaun (Foster), in the back of your mind you always have to have a plan. History is history and history has a way of repeating itself in this business, whether it's real good or real bad or coincidental.

"If anyone would come along and be as good as Mike Seidman and not have an injury history, then Mike would be in trouble. But right now he's trimmer, he's running better routes, he's catching the ball better. His knowledge of our system is better than it's ever been, so I'm kind of pleased with that."

Seidman doesn't view himself as competing with King for the last tight end spot.

He's set his sights higher.

"The way I see it, I'm competing with everyone," Seidman said. "I don't want to settle for being the third tight end. If I have to be third I will be third. But I feel like I'm competing with everyone at that position and I want to be a starter just like everyone else. I want to contribute."

In an ideal world, Seidman said he'd have a big year with Carolina and re-sign after the season.

But he knows all of that depends largely on what happens in the next four preseasons games against Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami and Pittsburgh.

If he doesn't play well, the team could cut him and keep King, thus saving more than $450,000 under the salary cap.

"I always thrive on any type of competition," Seidman said. "I think coming into this year injury-free and not having anything going on in the off-season I just feel the best I have felt since I came into the league."

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